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Orange County;
The Anguish and Joy That Only Another Mother Could Feel


As life's great moments sometimes do, the one on Friday caught Tricia Lopez by surprise.

"My guard was up. I was not thinking positive," she would say later.
But from her back-row seat in an Orange County courtroom, no more than 20 feet away from her son in shackles and standard jail garb, she heard the judge release him from prison--pending a hearing next month--after he'd served two years for a robbery he says he didn't commit.

Tricia Lopez's joy was what only a mother could feel.
Seated next to her, though, was a woman who understands it all too well. Just a year and three weeks ago, Ronnie Carmona had sat in another Orange County courtroom and heard a judge overturn an armed- robbery conviction against her son, Arthur, after he had spent 2 1/ 2 years in custody.

The Lopez family had contacted Ronnie Carmona after reading of her protracted efforts to get a new trial for Arthur. The families haven't become fast friends, but Ronnie Carmona says she wanted to be there Friday to support the Lopez family.

And when she heard Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Didier free Lopez on his own recognizance, she exulted.
"What a victory," she says later. "I'm so excited. I feel like it was for me, but it wasn't."

She chuckles at personalizing the moment, but as one who lobbied in this column for a new trial for Carmona, I know how anguished and relentless Ronnie Carmona had been during the 2 1/2 years it took to free her son.
"George was in Ironwood [State Prison], just like Arthur," Ronnie says.
"George is 19, Arthur's 19. It just hit too close to home to me. It was my son in there today."

She then does something she can't believe: She compliments the D.A.'s office. "You and me both know if they wanted him [Lopez] to stay in there, he would be in there," she says. "[Deputy district attorney Brian Gurwitz] would have put up more of a fight."

Gurwitz, who wasn't involved in the Carmona case, did oppose releasing Lopez outright but also said the issues raised in his appeal aren't frivolous and deserve a hearing.

"We tried to get Arthur out on his own recognizance [pending his scheduled evidentiary hearing last August]," Ronnie Carmona says, "but they kept saying, 'No way. He's convicted. He's a danger to society.' But it was the same thing as with George. He had no criminal record. He was not a threat to anyone."
Of the choices Friday facing the soft-spoken judge, freeing Lopez on his own recognizance made the loudest statement. He didn't require that the Lopez family post bail. Not $50,000, not $10,000. Not $1.

He only required that Lopez return to court for an evidentiary hearing that will determine whether he gets a new trial.
"I don't want you to let me down," the judge told Lopez.
Didier's decision tells me what he thinks of Lopez's conviction. Although he ruled only on the issue of bail, judges don't put their faith in robbers convicted of using sawed-off shotguns, as was Lopez. Especially when, as Didier pointed out, Lopez theoretically has an "incentive to flee" because he likely would serve at least nine more years if his conviction isn't reversed.
"I feel like the judge does believe George is a trustworthy person," Tricia Lopez says. "I feel he knows the truth. I think the D.A. knows the truth also."
A Roller Coaster With 'More Downs Than Ups'

For Ronnie Carmona, whose son faced a 12-year sentence, the victory is bittersweet. Yes, he was spared several more years in prison, but there's no getting back those 2 1/2 years that began just days after he turned 16.
Her concern for the Lopez family stems from watching Arthur the past 13 months. He is enrolled at Rancho Santiago College but has had a difficult transition from prison life, she says.

"It's been a roller coaster with more downs than ups," Ronnie says of family life. "We've had a bad year. The effects of everything, him being locked up, him going through the stages of him being angry and depressed, and then he's fine. And it's not just him, it's me."

In the midst of celebrating, Tricia Lopez says her family is on alert for things like that. "I know that once George is here, all of that is going to come together," she says. "He may come back with feelings that are buried inside him, but with love and patience, they will be brought back out.".

Credit: TIMES STAFF WRITER

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